Creating the perfect SEC defensive lineman for 2018
Later this month, SEC defensive linemen like Da’Ron Payne and Taven Bryan are likely to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, with several other linemen set to go in the ensuing rounds.
That leaves some question marks at the position heading into the 2018 season, but there still is plenty of returning talent and some unheralded newcomers who are gearing up to make their names known.
For a conference known for its defense, it’s safe to say there will be plenty of big-name players who will become household names this fall.
But who will become the best of the best? Here’s a look at which players we’d use to craft the perfect SEC defensive lineman for the 2018 season:
Pass rushing: Montez Sweat, Mississippi State
If you had to bet before last season on which players would lead the SEC in sacks, you probably would have gotten some great odds on Montez Sweat of Mississippi State and Landis Durham of Texas A&M.
However, both finished with 10.5 sacks, which was one more than Jeff Holland’s 9.5. Both players will be back on the field in 2018, but since Durham also plays outside linebacker, we’ll go with Sweat for this position, as he is a pure defensive lineman.
In the video below, Sweat absolutely bullies the Ole Miss offensive tackle on his way to a sack, showing off his speed, strength and body control:
Montez Sweat; here’s one where OT gets a head start, Sweat still able to get him off balance, pulls him out of the way with the left hand and gets there: pic.twitter.com/VsBvUCqa3p
— Matt Wyatt (@RadioWyatt) March 26, 2018
Sweat probably could have gone pro after his huge season, but he decided to return to Mississippi State for his senior year. Another big year could vault him up NFL Draft boards, so he’ll have plenty of motivation to succeed and stay atop the SEC’s sack leaderboard.
Tackling: Raekwon Davis, Alabama
Defensive linemen don’t often rack up huge tackle numbers, but Davis showed he has an eye for the ball, recording 69 tackles, 10 for a loss, and 8.5 sacks during Alabama’s 2017 title run.
At 6-7 and 300 pounds, Davis is an absolute beast, and one of the scariest athletes in all of the SEC. He has shown he can succeed in whatever role the Crimson Tide put him in, and he’ll be counted on even more this fall.
Wherever the ball ends up, Davis is likely to end up there, too, and that’s a great skill to have. He had an interception and a fumble recovery last year, and he’s primed to force even more turnovers in 2018.
Size: Terry Beckner Jr., Mizzou
While gigantic defensive tackles still have their place in the NFL, the new trend is having defensive linemen who can play everywhere along the defensive front. Beckner is equally adept at playing the run and rushing the passer, making him exactly the kind of lineman NFL teams are looking for.
Beckner is 6-4 and 290 pounds, which is almost identical to Philadelphia Eagles DT Fletcher Cox — a former Mississippi State Bulldog and one of the best defenders in the NFL.
Beckner has made an impressive comeback after tearing each of his ACLs — one as a freshman and one as a sophomore. If he can continue to play well this fall, he should be a first-round pick and could, like Cox, become a star in the NFL. That’s plenty of motivation to succeed, so he’ll be fun to watch along the Mizzou defensive line.
Toughness: Marlon Davidson, Auburn
Davidson looked like the $6 million man last year, with a bulky brace around his elbow. He also dealt with other nagging injuries. Still, he appeared in 12 games for the Tigers, recording 42 tackles (6 for a loss) and 3 sacks.
The rising junior has played alongside some great pass rushers the past couple of years, including Carl Lawson and Jeff Holland, and with so much competition, he’s answered the bell week in and week out.
With Nick Coe chasing him on the depth chart this year, it’s safe to say Davidson will be out there more often than not, battling through whatever bumps and bruises he suffers through the course of the season.
Leadership: Cece Jefferson, Florida
Though the middle linebacker is often seen as the quarterback of the defense, it is also necessary to have communication among defensive linemen.
Jefferson is entering the 2018 season as one of the most experienced players on the Florida defense. Even with Bryan in the mix last year, Jefferson was a leader, and that role is only going to increase this fall.
In the first season under new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, the Gators are going to look a lot different on that side of the ball. That could play into Jefferson’s favor as the Mississippi State Bulldogs improved from eighth in the SEC to fifth in their one year with Grantham at the helm of the defense.